China urges others to help keep North Korea stable
21 December 2011, 10:21
Seoul - China, which
may have received advanced notice of the death of North Korean leader
Kim Jong-il, has moved swiftly to call on the United States and other
countries to help maintain stability in the reclusive state, officials
and news reports said.
North Korea is in mourning since it announced Kim's demise on
Monday, two days after the 69-year-old iron ruler died of a heart
attack, plunging the region into uncertainty over its stability and who
had control over its nuclear weapons programme.
The official KCNA news agency said at least five million people
-- one-fifth of the population of the impoverished state -- had paid
condolences at statues and portraits of the leader and his father, North
Korea's founder Kim Il-Sung.
"These places turned into a veritable sea of mourners who
bitterly wept, looking up to portraits of smiling Kim Jong-il," it said.
His son Kim Jong-un, thought to be in his 20s, has been anointed
the successor but it is likely power rests with a coterie of senior
officials, including his aunt and uncle.
The younger Kim, along with top army and government officials,
paid respects on Tuesday to his father, whose body was placed in a glass
topped bier surrounded by the red "Kimjongilia" flowers named after
him, television footage showed.
A leading South Korean newspaper reported on Wednesday that
China, isolated North Korea's only major ally, learned of Kim's death
soon after it occurred on Saturday.
JoongAng Ilbo quoted an unidentified source in Beijing as saying
the Chinese ambassador to North Korea had obtained intelligence of Kim's
death and reported it to the capital on December 17, the day Kim died
of an apparent heart attack while on a train.
"North Korea informed China of Kim's death through diplomatic channels on the following day," the source was quoted as saying.
Top South Korean intelligence and military officials have come
under criticism for failing to learn of Kim's death before the official
announcement by Pyongyang.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak left on a state visit for
Japan some hours after Kim's death, indicating that neither Seoul nor
Tokyo -- nor Washington -- had any inkling of his death.
China has given no official comment or even hints suggesting it
was told of Kim's death before the public announcement. But in the past,
Beijing has had advance notice from North Korea of major events,
diplomats say. In 2006, North Korea told China 20 minutes or more
beforehand that it would test its first nuclear device, they said.
Beijing has moved swiftly to exhort the United States, Japan and South Korea to help keep North Korea stable.
"Preserving the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula is in
the common interests of all sides," Yang told Japan's Foreign Minister
Koichiro Gemba late on Tuesday, according to a report from China's
Xinhua news agency.
"China is willing to work with Japan to continue making efforts
to together protect the peace and stability of the peninsula and the
region," said Yang.
The Chinese foreign minister has already made similar pleas in
phone calls to South Korea's Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and to U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It underscores China's desire to avoid ructions over North Korea
after the death of Kim, whose successor-son is untested and largely
With its own leadership transition approaching, Beijing would be
loath to allow any form of instability on its borders and the prospect
of hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding across the Yalu River.
"China's foremost priority will therefore be to ensure that North
Korea's new leader, whoever that may be, will be able to rally and
unify the country together," said Sarah McDowall, an analyst at IHS
In the Chinese city of Dandong, on the bank of the Yalu River
border between the two nations, mourners who appeared to be North
Koreans filed through a makeshift mourning centre.
Women in their 20s and 30s wept, wailed and prostrated themselves
in front of wreaths of white and yellow chrysanthemums. Some men
clasped their hands in front of them and bowed deeply.
In Washington, officials said the United States has signalled to
North Korea's new leaders it hopes for progress on resuming talks on
curbing Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and has pushed ahead with
discussions on resuming food aid despite the death of Kim.
"Given the mourning period, frankly we don't think we'll be able
to have much more clarity and resolve these issues before the new year.
But obviously we stand ready to keep working on this," said State
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Nuland said the contact occurred on Monday through what is known
as "the New York channel" -- North Korea's mission to the United Nations
-- but she was unable to say whether it involved any political
discussion of the ramifications of Kim's death.